January Issue • Volume 44 • Issue 1

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Launching a New Pilot Mentoring Program at ASA

Beth Floyd and Jean H. Shin, ASA Minority Fellowship Program

Attendees at the Mentoring for Success in Research program

Attendees at the Mentoring for Success in Research program

This past November ASA successfully launched a small pilot mentoring program centered on Minority Fellowship Program (MFP) alumni. The program focused on alumni from its National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)-funded period between 2000 and 2010. Titled Mentoring for Success in Research (MSR) the goal of the pilot program is to assist MFP alumni who are currently assistant professors (on the tenure track) in applying to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for large or small research grants. It is an MFP-focused development project that is consistent with the program’s current and future goals, and ASA hopes to learn lessons from it about programmatic directions.

MSR is being co-led by three staff sociologists at the ASA Executive Office—John W. Curtis, Director of Research on the Discipline and Profession, Margaret Weigers Vitullo, Director of the Academic and Professional Affairs Program, and Jean H. Shin, Director of the Minority Affairs Program. According to Curtis, “The need for sociological insights into issues of the day continues to grow, even as the academic labor market has tightened further and federal funding for social scientific research is under constant threat. Early-career sociologists face an ongoing series of challenges in navigating this fluid environment and we are looking for ways to leverage the resources of ASA to support them in pursuing their career objectives. MFP alumni have already accomplished so much in their still emerging careers; exploring ways to provide practical mentoring as they move forward is a good investment for sociology and good for our society.”

In this pilot phase, there are 12 participants—6 assistant professors (early-career mentees), 3 associate professors (mid-career mentors), and 3 full professors (senior mentors). They are organized in three small mentoring “pods”, each comprised of one senior mentor, one mid-career mentor, and two early-career mentees. At the initial MSR workshop held in early November, the participants met over two full days both as a group and in their respective pods. They also spent a significant amount of time with senior staff members from the NIH Center for Scientific Review (CSR) and the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR) who graciously spent nearly an entire Saturday discussing aspects of NIH’s grant programs and peer review process and giving feedback on the mentees’ research.

The MSR participants heard comments and engaged in discussion with Richard Nakamura, Director of the NIH CSR; Delia Olufokunbi Sam, Scientific Review Officer, Health Disparities and Equity Promotion Study Section in the Healthcare Delivery and Methodologies IRG; Elaine Sierra-Rivera, Scientific Review Officer and Chief, Endocrinology, Metabolism, Nutrition, and Reproductive Services IRG; and Karyl Swartz, Director, Division of AIDS, Behavioral and Population Sciences. In addition, this distinguished group was joined by sociologist and ASA member Augusto (Augie) Diana, Program Director for Training and Technology, Office of Extramural Programs at NINR as well as Sally T. Hillsman, ASA Executive Officer.

The rest of the mentoring contact between MSR mentors and mentees will be done virtually through April 2016, using online meeting software and/or conference calls. They will also participate in a series of topical webinars that will provide an opportunity to hear from other experienced professionals in the NIH and research funding communities about suggestions and/or pitfalls when applying for grants. The participants are (by “pod”):

In assessing MSR’s potential trajectory, Vitullo said that, “The early stages of an academic career can be alienating. Leaving the relatively structured environment of graduate school, with clear milestones and relatively easily identified mentors and supportive peers, early career sociologists suddenly face a new environment, new students, new course preps, and a less clearly charted path forward. These challenges can be compounded for sociologists of color, who may have moved to communities and universities where they are one of only a few faculty members from under-represented groups, and suddenly find themselves asked to be on every committee and respond to the needs of every student of color. MSR is testing what we hope will prove to be a meaningful, cost-effective approach to providing professional support to MFP alumni at this critical stage of their careers.”

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